Whole vs Refined Carbohydrates:
- The types of carbohydrates you eat can be divided into two groups – whole and refined. While both types are essential to good health, there are significant differences between the two that affect how your body reacts to them.
- The following article takes an in-depth look at both whole and refined carbohydrates, what they are, their benefits and risks, and which foods contain them.
- Here, you’ll also find out whether whole or refined carbs should be the foundation of your diet. Read on to discover the truth about whole vs refined carbohydrates!
Why Carbohydrates Matter
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, supplying you with energy and nutrients. They’re found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other foods and can be either refined or unrefined.
While many people think that it’s healthier to eat whole-grain carbohydrates (unrefined), not all carbs are created equal.
Check out these reasons why refined carbohydrates aren’t necessarily bad for you. A lot of what we hear about whole grain is based on studies done on rats and observational studies, which are both less reliable than clinical trials.
The healthiest diets in human history were high in fat and low in carbohydrates—it was only after food manufacturers began promoting heavily processed carbohydrate products that high-carb diets became popular.
Most whole grain products contain significant amounts of added sugar to improve their taste, which negates any potential health benefits they may have had anyway.
The refining process strips away certain compounds called phytochemicals—which may help protect against cancer and heart disease—that occur naturally in some foods.
What Makes a Carbohydrate Whole or Refined?
The first thing to understand is that whole and refined carbohydrates have very little in common except for their shared makeup of 3 important nutrients: fiber, protein, and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
Fiber helps regulate your digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels. Proteins are used to build muscle and create energy.
And vitamins and minerals are part of many biological processes throughout your body. That said, there are plenty of other factors besides these three that make a carbohydrate either whole or refined.
For example, how you process a food can impact its carbohydrate level—carbohydrates found in fruits may be considered whole but those same carbohydrates become refined when they’re added to a sugary drink or processed into something like candy.
Cooking with Whole Grains
The nutritional properties of whole grains are important. Look for recipes using whole-grain ingredients, such as wheat flour, oats, rye, barley and brown rice.
There are many delicious ways to cook with whole grains and an increasing number of grocery stores offer a variety of whole-grain products.
If you’re not sure how to use them in your cooking routine yet, experiment with a few different dishes until you find what works best for you.
Some tips include: Substitute brown rice or bulgur wheat for white rice or pasta; replace regular bread with 100 percent whole-wheat breads and tortillas; top vegetables with cracked wheat or barley instead of croutons; add barley to soups and stews; and try cornmeal instead of cornstarch for thickening sauces.
Cooking with Fruits & Vegetables
Cook your favorite foods in whole-food form instead of refined, and you’ll do more than give your taste buds a boost. You’ll also help yourself eat more fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. That’s because these nutrients are much more likely to be found in whole foods than refined ones.
For example, fruits, vegetables and legumes all contain large amounts of fiber—fiber that gets stripped out during processing—and most minerals and antioxidants are fat-soluble, meaning they can’t dissolve into water (like refined carbohydrates).
So manufacturers remove them as well. By choosing whole foods over their processed counterparts, you’re ensuring that you get all of these important nutrients with every bite.
Snacking on Nuts, Seeds, & Popcorn
These snacks will fill you up, keep your hunger satisfied, and fuel you with slow-digesting carbs. Just watch your portion sizes; a small handful is all you need.
In fact, research has found that people who snack on nuts tend to weigh less than those who don’t. That’s probably because nuts are packed with metabolism-boosting fats and fiber.
Research also suggests that eating them between meals can help control your appetite. Try these six healthy nuts – Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, and pistachios – or seeds like sunflower seeds for a satisfying crunch.
Cooking with Beans, Legumes, and Lentils
Like whole grains, legumes and lentils are great sources of healthy fiber. Fiber can help lower your risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Legumes and lentils also contain high amounts of protein. Depending on how much you eat at one time, you can get between 8-13 grams of protein from a cup of beans or lentils. This is about 18% more than meat provides per ounce.
And as if that wasn’t enough to convince you to start adding beans to your diet, they’re also low in fat and rich in antioxidants.
Pretty awesome for something that costs $0.25! In fact, all plant foods—including fruits and vegetables—contain protective phytochemicals. But studies show that only plant foods that come directly from nature have an optimal balance of nutrients.
Bottom Line: If you want to add some health benefits to your meals, consider adding legumes like beans and lentils into your diet. They’re not only delicious but also really good for you. Try out these bean recipes for dinner tonight!
Choosing the Right Carbs
While all carbs are technically sugar, not all carbs are created equal. In general, it’s a good idea to choose whole grains over refined grains.
Though they contain some starch, whole grains provide extra fiber and healthy antioxidants, which can help you manage your weight and overall health.
Plus, unlike refined grains that are stripped of fiber during processing, whole grains tend to help keep you full longer—so you’re less likely to overindulge on junk food later in the day.
For example, brown rice is considered a whole grain because most of its nutritional value remains intact after processing.
But white rice has been stripped of its bran layer and most nutrients (and fiber) have been lost in that process. As such, white rice is considered an empty-calorie carbohydrate source.
So if you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthier, stick with whole carbohydrates like brown rice instead of their processed counterparts like white rice or bread made from enriched flour.